Monday, June 26, 2006

Mandarin, Chapter 10

In our Mandarin textbook, our class works through a series of chapters organized around certain themes - introducing yourself, going to a restaurant, directing a taxi driver, and so on. Chapter 10 is on giving instructions to your maid, and the sample dialogue is specifically designed to instruct your maid to clean up your child's vomit.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Common Unhappiness

From my dad, via email:

"When early patients of Freud's complained to him that nothing could change the original circumstances which made them unhappy, he agreed—with a caveat: 'Much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.'"


Monday, June 19, 2006

My Horrible Mosquito Problem

I couldn't possibly discuss my time in the city without mentioning my constant terrible battle with mosquitos.

The weather this time of year is hot and humid - today was typical at 85 degrees with 70% humidity, and often there are thunderstorms in the afternoons. This leads to pools of warm, dirty water, breeding grounds for mosquitos. I haven't spent much time around mosquitos before - they are rare in most places I have lived - so I never knew before that I am extremely sensitive to mosquito bites and likewise extremely attractive to mosquitos.

It is not uncommon for me to fall asleep for a short nap and wake with two or three new bites. After work, I may have four or five. At any one time, I have about 10-15 "active" bites, and my feet, legs, and arms are covered in scabs, scars, and red welts about the size of a dime.

Dev, of course, has no bites at all.

Needless to say, I've tried everything. First, I used an organic repellent spray, then buckled down and got the lethal chemical type. I have anti-itch cream; I soak my legs in cool water every evening. There's a group of mosquitos under my desk at work, so our office ayi starting burning citronella coils under the desk - but these for-outside-use-only coils just left us with nosebleeds and headaches from the fumes.

I usually wake up around 4 am, overcome with itching, and sleep only intermittently after that. Last night was perhaps the worst - I woke up at 5am and began coating my legs with anti-itch cream as usual. When it didn't work, I went into the bathroom, soaked a bath towel in cool water, and returned to bed to wrap it around my legs. That accomplished nothing but soaking the bedsheets. I finally resigned myself to lying still for about an hour, rubbing one leg with the opposite foot, until I fell back to sleep.

[This is compounded by the coughing, sneezing, and burning throat and eyes caused by the city's severe air pollution (Shanghai is one of the world's five worst cities for air quality, Beijing is generally cited as the first - the number of micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air is four times higher in Shanghai than in Los Angeles and New York combined). The end result is that I often sleep as little as four or five solid hours a night before waking from a combination of coughing and itching.]

The itching, at least, may soon improve.

Today at work, our office ayi was cleaning under my desk when she noticed my legs, red and raw and wrapped in wet paper towels. She asked me what was wrong and I answered "mosquitos" - one of the Chinese words I practice here most often. She returned with a little bottle of bright green, astringent liquid with a strong herbal smell and applied it to my bites. The liquid has a cool, menthol-type feeling and totally numbs the itching. Unfortunately, the effects wear off in about an hour, but it's still a major improvement over the useless creams I had before. I bought my own bottle this evening, 12 ounces for $1.20.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Unlikely animal enemies.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Writing Life

I just finished a piece of business writing, a year-end financial statement for a Chinese corporation, sent back four times with the comment, "This looks good, but can you make it more exciting?"

Other recent and varied projects include 100 test questions on "critical reading" for high school students and the glossary to a book about Hinduism.

Editing for the local magazine here has taken up a lot of time - most of it spent looking for synonyms for "spicy" - but I'm finally getting settled back into the rhythm of steady freelancing. I'm currently working on an new assignments for artnet, Verse, and Identity Theory, and as well as two pitches for pieces about Shanghai.

For those who have asked - my restaurant reviews and other That's Shanghai material are written anonymously and won't be going up on this site, but I'm happy to send clips to anyone who'd like them.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Way Forward

"Construct a consumer environment of rest assured is a common duty of whole society."

- Banner over the entrance to Shanghai's Xiang Yang market, home to thousands of fake designer bags, watches, shoes, and jackets